Rotary Youth Exchange student Penny Keeling reports in from fire-breathing class!
Hi all,
Grüsse aus Frankreich!!!
I’m almost finished my third week of the summer holidays and it’s been great so far! I was planning on writing this email last week or the week before but I was too lazy to sit down and get it done.
During online school, I thought that we would be online right up until the holidays, but on almost the last Friday of schooling’s June, the school emailed everyone out of the blue and said “on Monday, we’re starting back completely normal for the last two weeks before the summer!!” It was a bit of a surprise considering we only had two weeks left and everyone was in a routine from having done school from their laptop for the past 13 or so weeks.
It was super cool to see my class and get back to “normal" after so long. We didn’t do that much learning as we’d basically finished all the coursework for the year so it was just fun activities and movie watching. In Chemistry we made super quick ice cream with dry ice which I think was one of the more interesting classes. One day our chemistry teacher also taught us how to “breathe fire”, only a few kids volunteered - I was not one of them. (I really didn’t have any idea what was going on until he demonstrated because he was speaking super fast German) I’ve attached a photo of one of the boys doing it. 
On the last day of school we also had a class half-day where we just hung out for the morning and then went out for lunch together and  went to a trampoline park. It’s really cool how your class stays together for all the subjects and also doesn’t change for 2 or 3 or even 4 years. After the summer holidays, I’ll be with the same class and we’ll be in what they call the “5th Class”. It's the 5th out of the 6 years of high school they have. The average age is probably equivalent to year 12 or year 13 but the year groups in Switzerland have a much wider age range. For example, there’s a couple of kids who have already turned 18 and they’re old because they both did exchange years, and then there's a couple boys who are still 15 - Its relatively normal here to redo a year or start school a bit later or earlier or go on an exchange. Even though they’ve still got two full years of high school ahead of them, I would say that they were doing the equivalent of year 13 schoolwork before the summer and after the holidays it’ll probably be equivalent to year 13 again. I found what they were learning pretty good because they would start topics almost exactly where I had finished learning to last year in NZ.
On the 4th of July I did a hike that was organised by Rotary to a place called Cruex du Van which is in the French speaking part of Switzerland. It is a "natural rocky cirque approximately 1,400 metres wide and 150 metres deep” so basically it was a giant hill with a big cliffs, the only downside was that it was pretty hot to be walking up a hill for 2 hours. 
And then a few days later (6th of July) I went with my host mum and sister to Zermatt for 2 days. We took the train because it was easier and not too crowded, but we had to wear masks the whole time. I’ve found that wearing a mask is actually fine and you get used to it after 5 minutes or so. The only annoying bit is that if its really hot then the mask makes your face sweaty and even hotter, and its also a very effective way of being able to tell when you have bad breath :)
Zermatt was really pretty with lots of old buildings and almost completely geared towards tourists. It was still relatively busy but everyone was German or French or Italian and there weren’t many other foreign tourists. We were able to see a little sliver of the Matterhorn from our hotel room, and there was absolutely NO clouds for the whole time we were there which is apparently pretty uncommon able to see the top of the Matterhorn all the time. We went up a mountain that is across from the Matterhorn and up the top we were 3180m high, which is the highest altitude I’ve ever been. From there we had an amazingly good view of the Matterhorn which is 4000m high, and also a mountain called the Klein Matterhorn which is 3883m high and has skiing all year round, we even saw some famous Swiss skiers in Zermatt but we were too scared to ask for their autograph. We were also able to see the Monte Rosa (In German its called the Dufourspitze) which is the highest mountain in Switzerland at 4634m high and is on the border with Italy.
We went home from Zermatt that Wednesday and then on Thursday the 9th I changed host families. I’m only with my new family for the summer and my host parents have two children but they don’t live at home because they’re already in their 20s. On Thursday we went to their holiday house in a place called Vitznau where they have an expensive view of Lake Lucerne. There, I got to meet their children which was fun. The family is completely bilingual and it’s a bit unnerving to be listening to German and then it switches to French mid sentence. My host mum is from Paris so mostly speaks French but she obviously has to speak German to me and my host dad is Swiss so he speaks German but is also completely fluent in French. Their children went to a bilingual school where the subjects switched between being taught in French and being taught in German every year so they’re also always swapping languages. 
On Monday we drove from Switzerland to Céret, France. It was about a 8.5 hour drive and we were on the motorway the entire way where the speed limit was 130km/h. My host parents usually spend about half the year in Céret, where they have a farm and a small business. There's about 100 hectares of land here which is all hilly and dry. I’ve become used to living in Switzerland where there's always so many houses and people so its nice to be somewhere quieter, their house here is really big and really nice, with a pool that I swim in every day because of the heat. From our house, we look across at hills that are Spain. Barcelona is about 2 hours away I think, but unfortunately we aren’t doing any sightseeing in Spain because everyone thinks the border is going to be closed any day. I’m going to be here until the middle of August if all goes to plan and then I’m going to be with a new host family and starting the school year. 
From Penny.
What we get to do in Chemistry class.
Creux Du Van.
I also went to the Rheinfall with my previous host family.
The Matterhorn.
An evening photo of the view we had of Lake Lucerne.
The big hill in the background is Spain, and on the left half of the photo there is the sea which is just too far away to be seen in the photo.
The big hill in the background is Spain, and on the left half of the photo there is the sea which is just too far away to be seen in the photo.